There is a brief moment in The Prince and Me where footage is shown from the most romantic scene in cinematic history. In that instant when fireworks go off as Grace Kelly and Cary Grant kiss in To Catch a Thief, a clever wink is given to the viewer. After all, Grace Kelly lived out the girlish fantasy that has now been used as the basis for this movie.
The Prince and Me
By David Mumpower
March 31, 2004
An ordinary woman, or at least an American movie star who had once been an ordinary woman, Grace Kelly fell in love with the Prince of Monaco and lived happily ever after. Had the rest of the movie been as clever as this knowing wink, The Prince and Me would be a masterpiece. Instead, the film is best described in dating terminology. There is an engaging first hour where sparks ignite followed up quickly by a disastrous attempt at climax which crushes all hope. Doesn’t sound very romantic, eh?
Rather than again attempt to describe the plot, I will recount Kim and my prior evaluation of it from a Trailer Hitch column: It's The Princess Diaries, Chasing Liberty, What a Girl Wants, Coming to America and Hamlet all wrapped up in one tidy little package! Quickly flipping through the film rolodex here, this story is about a brooding prince of Denmark (Hamlet!) who decides to hide out in America long enough to know what it's like to escape from under the thumb of his country's leader, his father (Chasing Liberty!). While in the US, he falls in love with a distinctly American woman who has no idea of the Prince's real identity (Coming to America!). When she discovers who he really is, she is forced to learn the customs of a young woman in a royal family (What a Girl Wants!) before finally becoming princess (The Princess Diaries!) through marriage.
While our tongue-in-cheek comments about the movie might be harsh, the reality is that The Prince and Me is blatantly cribbing from all of these other films. I don't have any problem with this sort of behavior as long as the movie manages to entertain. Much to my surprise, though, the first hour of the movie is not the predictable series of events indicated in the trailer.
After Prince Edvard Valdemar Dangaard (Luke Mably of 28 Days Later) arrives in Wisconsin, the crown prince of Denmark for no apparent reason quickly falls in love with a stubborn waitress who refuses to flash him. The fact that this stunning yank looks a lot like Julia Stiles probably has something to do with this. It also doesn't hurt that the young co-ed is impossibly noble.
Paige Morgan is a senior trying to get into Johns Hopkins Medical School. The farm girl from the country somehow manages to perform spectacularly in school while working a ton of hours at the bar and still finding the time to be a great friend to many. I was armed and ready to get cheeky about the nuances of this virtual impossibility but upon reflection, the Stiles character sounds a lot like Rory Gilmore. So, I stand corrected. Paige is adorable and completely believable!
Morgan isn't perfect, however. Her Achilles heel is Shakespeare, so the dude who kept hitting on her at the bar suddenly becomes a viable tutoring option. Eddie, as he insists on being called, knows the concept of a brooding prince of Denmark like the back of his (royal) hand, so he is all-too-willing to help. Since the two are young, pretty and driven by raging hormones, it's obvious where The Prince and Me will wind up.
What is unexpected, though, is the fact that the portion of the movie that is set in Wisconsin works very well. Thanks in large part to the exceptional comic relief of Ben Miller as Soren, the loyal servant who joins Prince Eddie on his trip, the pacing is snappy and the ideas are fully developed. When Paige takes the prince home to Wisconsin with her, the broad humor of a prince performing farm chores offers unexpected entertainment despite how stupid it probably sounds. A lot of the success here is due to the fact that in addition to Miller's cynically understated behavior, the movie also offers strong chemistry between Stiles and Mably. The natural affinity between the two overcomes a lot of the weaker spots in the script...at least in the first hour.
When The Prince and Me goes trans-continental, the movie takes a precipitous turn for the worst. After an initial series of deft turns on the stereotypes of the genre (Beginner's luck?), the script's luck runs out. From then on, every awful concept possible for this sort of princely romantic comedy is unveiled. A brutally edited series of events theoretically sees Morgan go from giddy to miserable, but it all comes across as forcing conflict into a story that was somehow working well enough without any. Getting the duo together in the first place is handled with the perfect tender touch but rather than let them live happily ever after, some plot twists are randomly introduced. And none of them work. At all.
The worst part of the Denmark Disaster is that on paper, this section of the film ostensibly looks like the strength of it, at least from an acting perspective. Miranda Richardson, arguably one of the finest actresses in the world, plays the queen, while James Fox of Sexy Beast is cast as the king. How such care could be given to sign two legitimate stalwarts of the professions when so little detail has been given to the writing of their characters is beyond me. Needless to say, the two have little to do and are left for the most part to sit in crowded areas while waving regally. It's unforgivable even factoring in that the body of the movie rightfully should focus on the young lovers rather than the regal parents.
I have a hard time voting completely against The Prince and Me. Those inclined to go see it know what is in store for them, and those viewers should be pleasantly surprised in the first hour. Even better, the leads of the movie are quite winning as a couple. Viewers should be braced for a stubbornly conventional series of events in second half of the movie, though, and I doubt there will be anyone coming out of the theater calling the ending a homerun. The Prince and Me teases at exceeding its limitations and accomplishing the unexpected but in the end, it falls short of offering satisfaction.